There have been 39 exchanges between John Baron and Cabinet Office
|Wed 30th December 2020||European Union (Future Relationship) Bill||3 interactions (404 words)|
|Wed 9th December 2020||EU Withdrawal Agreement||3 interactions (116 words)|
|Thu 19th November 2020||Integrated Review||3 interactions (97 words)|
|Mon 2nd November 2020||Covid-19 Update||3 interactions (93 words)|
|Wed 25th March 2020||Speaker's Statement||3 interactions (93 words)|
|Fri 20th December 2019||European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill||3 interactions (63 words)|
|Wed 30th October 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (94 words)|
|Tue 22nd October 2019||European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill||5 interactions (615 words)|
|Sat 19th October 2019||Prime Minister’s Statement||3 interactions (97 words)|
|Thu 3rd October 2019||Brexit Negotiations||3 interactions (117 words)|
|Wed 4th September 2019||Early Parliamentary General Election||10 interactions (566 words)|
|Tue 3rd September 2019||G7 Summit||3 interactions (67 words)|
|Thu 25th July 2019||Priorities for Government||3 interactions (122 words)|
|Wed 12th June 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (120 words)|
|Thu 11th April 2019||European Council||3 interactions (91 words)|
|Wed 27th March 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (96 words)|
|Mon 25th March 2019||European Council||3 interactions (84 words)|
|Wed 13th March 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||4 interactions (118 words)|
|Tue 12th March 2019||European Union (Withdrawal) Act||3 interactions (97 words)|
|Tue 26th February 2019||Leaving the European Union||3 interactions (137 words)|
|Tue 12th February 2019||Leaving the EU||3 interactions (52 words)|
|Wed 6th February 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (44 words)|
|Mon 21st January 2019||Leaving the EU||3 interactions (132 words)|
|Wed 16th January 2019||No Confidence in Her Majesty’s Government||3 interactions (46 words)|
|Mon 14th January 2019||Leaving the EU||3 interactions (66 words)|
|Wed 12th December 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (60 words)|
|Tue 4th December 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Act||3 interactions (53 words)|
|Mon 26th November 2018||Leaving the EU||3 interactions (91 words)|
|Wed 17th October 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (64 words)|
|Mon 9th July 2018||Leaving the EU||3 interactions (62 words)|
|Wed 25th April 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (81 words)|
|Mon 16th April 2018||Syria||3 interactions (80 words)|
|Mon 16th April 2018||Syria||3 interactions (499 words)|
|Wed 14th March 2018||Salisbury Incident||3 interactions (42 words)|
|Mon 5th March 2018||UK/EU Future Economic Partnership||3 interactions (66 words)|
|Wed 20th December 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (88 words)|
|Wed 6th December 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (115 words)|
|Mon 23rd October 2017||European Council||3 interactions (35 words)|
|Wed 6th September 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (40 words)|
Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. When the Division is called later, I will be supporting this legislation. With only one day until the end of the transition period, voting to implement this treaty is the only way to avoid no deal. No deal would be nothing short of catastrophic for the producers, manufacturers, exporters and businesses of Batley and Spen, and of the wider West Yorkshire area; the bed makers, biscuit manufacturers and paint companies would all suffer. Keeping no deal on the table for so long has already caused enormous stress, job losses and uncertainty, which has been especially cruel after such a challenging few months due to covid-19.
We have already heard today about how many glaring omissions there are in this deal, but I wish to focus on one that will cause long-lasting devastation to one of our most successful exports, the creative industries. Labour’s amendment on that was not selected. Over the past few months, Home Office officials have made it simple for artists from all the EU to come to the UK in 2021 and beyond; they planned ahead, consulted and developed a single extension of the existing arrangements for artists from non-visa countries, such as the United States and Canada—a temporary worker creative and sporting visa, the T5. Issued by a sponsor, it does not cost a lot and is proven to work, giving musicians from the EU 90 days in which to work in the UK. They also upgraded a scheme called “permitted paid engagement”, which makes it simple for almost anyone—academics and individual artists—to visit for cultural reasons. Sadly, the Government’s brilliant negotiators failed to negotiate reciprocity for our simple and generous measures. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us whether this is part of a cunning plan or just a mistake. We know that members of the Government’s Front-Bench team support a creative passport, so why do we have this glaring omission?
This failure will have an impact on young artists trying to break through in the EU, and on musicians working in EU bands and orchestras, who will be subject to border delays. Then there is the perception of EU festival organisers, which could mean British artists being overlooked. In addition, the cabotage rule means that UK-based trucks can have only three drops at EU venues, which means EU companies becoming more cost-effective. Of course it is easy to focus on stars, but this is about haulage companies, producers, production crew, technicians, artists, professional musicians, dancers and actors, all of whom contribute to this £111 billion industry. It is no wonder that a petition calling for the Government to remedy this situation has been signed more than 195,000 times, and the number is rising. The Bill places bureaucracy, carnets, costs and delays where there once was frictionless trade, and I hope the Minister will lay out his plans to support this vital British sector.
For the overwhelming majority of my constituents, this discussion brings no cheer. Confident, outward-looking Europeans, we genuinely struggle to understand why this country should want to turn away from our neighbours, and build barriers where there have been bridges. It is an inescapable fact that in every sphere we will be worse off next week. We ask the obvious questions of the Brexiteers. They promised frictionless trade: failed. They promised the exact same benefits: failed. They promised it would be easy and simple: well, here we are at the very last, having to rush through legislation because it is far from easy, far from simple. Of course, that suits the Prime Minister, who always fears scrutiny. In prioritising notional sovereignty over practical utility, he has made a fundamental error. We have seen in recent weeks in Kent what the failure to achieve frictionless trade can lead to. In future, any disagreement with France can lead to the same chaos. Yes, we are notionally free, but it is a pretty empty freedom that leaves our streets lined with innocent victims, trapped in vehicles without food or sanitation.
We have a poor choice today: nothing, or take the scraps that are on offer. Incredibly, some gullible Government Members who told the country that “we hold all the cards” somehow think that their tests have been met. Let us take data, the lifeblood of modern economies. What is on offer? A reprieve for a few months, while the EU considers a data adequacy application. Does it have to grant it? No, it does not. What is our recourse if, as it is fully entitled to do, it says no? Let us hear from Government Members—I suspect that there will be a deafening silence, because answer is there none. The truth is that we do not hold all the cards. Yes, we hold some, and hopefully sense will prevail and further agreements will be made.
That is my hope for the future. Bit by bit, sector by sector, we will rebuild that relationship that has been so damaged, and this time we will do it by explaining carefully and convincing the British people that sharing and co-operating with our neighbours is not surrendering something, but gaining much more, and that the noble vision of a continent united in peace and prosperity is worth striving for. In no area is that more true than in science, research and innovation. One of the opportunities is a pathway back into the hugely important Horizon Europe programme—important to the country but particularly important to my constituency. Of course, we will cease to have influence over its future direction—we have no seat at the table and no vote, and the payment mechanisms may well lead to perverse outcomes; that is the cost that the Conservatives have inflicted on us—but we can participate, and that is worth having.
It is for that reason that I will willingly vote for this thin agreement today—only because it is better than nothing. That is a low bar, but it is a start, and with the prospect of new management for our country—
The Simpsons character I most remembered was Groundskeeper Willie, because he is an Aberdonian. [Interruption.] I am not sure what his position is on independence, but as jannies go, he is certainly one of the best. To the hon. Gentleman’s point, Scotland does have the best of both worlds. It has a devolved Administration in Holyrood and representation by great MPs such as himself here in Westminster.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The point he makes, and the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) made earlier, reinforce the fact that the Conservative party is united behind the Prime Minister. It is willing him to get a deal, but it is also ready to accept that if we cannot get the deal we want, we will not accept a deal at any price. That has to be the right way forward.
The hon. Gentleman asks a very interesting question about a hypothetical political event that is at least a generation away. What I can say is that there is absolutely no threat to the Black Watch, to DFID in East Kilbride or to any of the other fantastic investments that this package brings to Scotland. It is a fantastic thing for our country and for our Union.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question, because he is right to highlight the importance of soft power. Studies have shown that we are among the biggest wielders of soft power in the world—we are a soft-power superpower. That soft power has many components, of which the British Council is one, but a robust, self-confident defence policy that allows us to project strength around the world is also hugely valuable. Hard power leads to soft power.
I am so sorry about the case that the hon. Lady describes. I have met, as I am sure Members across the House have, bereaved family members of those who have lost their lives in care homes, who have not been able to visit them, and it is an absolute tragedy. All I can tell her is that we are doing our absolute best to allow people to visit their relatives in extreme circumstances, making sure that they have the necessary PPE. What we cannot have is another outbreak of the kind that we saw in care homes and, alas, the virus is transmitted readily in care homes and between care homes and we must not see that again.
We are not bringing back shielding, as I mentioned earlier, although we do think that the elderly need to take special steps to protect themselves. In connection with Sweden, actually the Swedish example is not quite the slam-dunk that perhaps people think. Sweden does not, for instance, allow pupils over 15 to get back into school, whereas we prioritise keeping our schools open. That is the balance that we strike the whole time—a balance between keeping our economy moving as far as we can, keeping our schools open, and defeating the virus. That is what we are trying to do.
The hon. Member is absolutely right to pay tribute to the work of the voluntary sector and the charitable sector. They are crucial to our national response to this crisis, and my right hon. Friends the Culture Secretary and the Chancellor are looking at a package of measures to support charities as well.
This debate is the beginning of a promise fulfilled—not simply a promise fulfilled by my party, although it is certainly that, but a promise fulfilled by this Parliament to the people of this country. When we embarked on the Brexit process we—Parliament—offered a decision to the British people. We said that we could not or would not make a decision about our future relationship with the European Union, but that the people of this country would take that decision and Parliament would respect it.
We have had three years of betrayal of that pact with the British people in the previous Parliament, when Members simply would not honour the manifesto commitments on which 80% of them had been elected. Those who wilfully signed up to a manifesto saying that they would honour the referendum result, but then came to the House and betrayed that, did not enjoy their first democratic contact with voters. I am proud that many of my new hon. Friends are taking the place of those who did not honour that.
This is also an historic opportunity for you, Mr Speaker, to repair some of the damage done to the reputation of the Chair of this House by some of your predecessor’s decisions. We wish you well in that great task.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is absolutely right not to enter into constant extensions to the implementation period with the European Union. Nothing would give the EU less incentive to come to a final agreement with the UK than embarking on such a process. We have had the torture of the last few years in which there were endless increases in the timeframe, and we need not go through that again.
My hon. Friend puts his finger on the most important point. We will face not a technical issue, but a political issue. Indeed, the political declaration sets out that we will have no tariffs, no fees and no quotas in the economic relationship. That is what normally takes up the time in trading agreements, so it is entirely possible that this agreement can be done. The debate we will embark on is about not tariffs, fees and quotas, but regulatory alignment. That will be the central debate in our negotiations with the European Union.
We need to see the issue in a wider global context. At the World Trade Organisation meeting in Buenos Aires, it became clear that there are two ways forward in the global trading system. One is the concept of harmonisation —a highly legalistic regulatory means of doing business, which says, “This is the way we do it today, so this is the way we will always do it in the future.” Against that, there is the wider concept of outcome-based equivalence, which says, “Yes, we know what standards we need to meet, but we want to find our own ways, our own rules and our own efficiencies in achieving them.” The EU is now in a real minority, as it is virtually only the EU that takes the route of harmonisation.
There are those in the forthcoming negotiations who will say that, to have access to the single market, Britain must accept dynamic alignment—in other words, we must automatically change our rules in line with the EU. The Prime Minister will have 100% support from the Conservative party if he rules out any concept of dynamic alignment, which would leave Britain in a worse place in terms of taking back control than we are in as a member of the European Union.
The debate we are embarking on is about a clear choice. At no point in the European debate was there the option of maintaining the status quo: we either had to embark on our own course, controlling our own borders, our funds and our future; or we remained tied to an economic and political model of the European Union that is utterly dependent on ever-closer union. I have never believed that ever-closer union is in Britain’s national interests, and if the bus has the wrong destination on the front, the best thing to do is to get off, which was what the British people decided to do.
I thank my hon. Friend for putting that so succinctly and well. That is exactly what we want. I think it is what the people of this country want; they want to get Brexit done and they want to move forward with a one nation agenda to unite this country, and to level up across the country with better education, better infrastructure and fantastic new technology. That is our agenda; the Opposition’s agenda is for years more of political dither, delay and division.
I will not give way; I am going to make progress.
In a constituency like Tottenham, it means everything. It means that the knife crime that I am worried about could get considerably worse. I do not want the South Side of Chicago in Tottenham. It means that the jobs that we need may not be there. I think of the constituencies that good friends represent in other parts of this country. If we leave a £220 billion European market, and leave the single market and the customs union, we will inevitably get tariffs. Tariffs will inevitably affect the manufacturing that is left, and that will surely mean a reduction in jobs in those constituencies. How will that assist our country? On the Government’s own estimates, there would be a reduction in GDP of 11% in the north-east of this country, and a reduction of 8% in the west midlands and the east midlands. That is massive; it is bigger than the 2008 crash. The truth is that, while there has been some recovery in London, there has been very little outside London in parts of the midlands, the north-west and the north-east. How can we seriously contemplate making things worse for those people?
We have been talking about a trade deal with the United States. I went on an all-party visit to the United States in July and we sat with Republicans and Democrats to talk about the meat of what a trade deal looked like. They were all clear, as was the trade union body in America, that there would of course be a reduction in labour standards because their labour standards are lower than our own. They were clear about wanting some of our agriculture, our pharmaceuticals and our healthcare. They also raised issues about Hollywood getting its grip on our creative industries. Why would we do that? How will that help our people?
So, we would get tariffs and a massive drop in growth, and yet I stand here prepared to vote for this deal, but only on the basis that we put it back to the British people so that they can have the final say: do they want this deal or do they want to remain? I am prepared, despite the poverty and hardship in my own constituency, to go for this deal, but on that one condition. That is how we get this done. That is how we bring our country together. We must actually use democracy to say, “Do you really want this deal?” That is the only way forward. The rest is noise. As weary as we are, I cannot walk through the Lobby and knowingly wave this through with so little scrutiny on behalf of my constituents.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). I will not be voting for the Bill this evening, because it is nothing more than a charter for a no-deal Brexit. The safeguards in the withdrawal agreement negotiated by the previous Prime Minister which would have ensured that we would not leave without a deal at the end of the implementation period in 2020 have now been removed. It is quite clear that the so-called backstop for England, Wales and Scotland has gone. The reason why so many Conservative Members who opposed the previous Prime Minister’s deal on all three occasions it came to this House are now so keen to vote for this Bill and this agreement is that it will deliver the hard no-deal Brexit they believe in, and in some cases have done for decades.
The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay referred to the backstop having been removed, but the reality and truth is that for Northern Ireland the new backstop is an arrangement that will be there in perpetuity. As this House knows, the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and I disagree on many things, but on this issue we are at one. In his speech, he made a number of serious assertions about the impact of not only the Bill but the withdrawal agreement on the Union and, in particular, Northern Ireland, and some Conservative Members sat and shook their heads, querying that. It concerns me that because of this terrible programme motion, there will be nothing to allow any Member, Committee or independent organisation to scrutinise and check whether his assertions are correct or false. Having read this Bill and the protocol twice, I think he is right, and we need to be sure.
The hon. Gentleman should listen to the voices from Northern Ireland—and it is not just the DUP or the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon); it is from across the community. This is a genuine threat, and it is incredible that Members of the Conservative and Unionist party are prepared to vote through this Bill when its attendant protocols will undoubtedly mean that there will be a separate arrangement for Northern Ireland in perpetuity. There is nothing in the Bill that will allow things to change.
I would also ask: how much better is our country since we had this referendum? Are we a happier, gentler people, and are friends, families and communities more united or are we divided now in a way that we have never experienced before? This Bill will do nothing to heal divisions; it will actually increase the divides in our society. That is a concern.
I believe with a passion that not one single promise that was made by the leave campaign has been fulfilled in any way, shape or form. We were promised a deal before we left. We were promised that Northern Ireland would not be treated any differently, and we were promised that it would keep and preserve the United Kingdom. We were made a promise that we would have the same trading relationship that we currently enjoy as a member of the single market and the customs union, and none of those things has been delivered in the Bill or any of the attendant documents.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). He and I disagree on so many things, but on this we are at one. If this is so good, it should go back to the people. That should not be by way of a general election, which will solve nothing just as the 2017 general election did not solve anything—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I must say in all candour and humility that he misrepresents what I think is an excellent deal. It takes Northern Ireland out of the EU customs union and preserves it in the UK’s customs territory. It does not create a border in the Irish sea; it allows us together, as a single United Kingdom, to do free trade deals around the world. I think his constituents would want him to support this deal and get Brexit done tonight and on 31 October.
Order. Colleagues, I am very grateful to the large number of people who have come up to the Chair expressing concern about my throat. Their generosity of spirit and humanity are much appreciated, but I want to confirm to the House that the state of my throat, which is purely temporary, is not down to the consumption of a kangaroo’s testicle. I would not eat it; it would probably be poisoned.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The preparations that we have made for that outcome, a no-deal exit—I thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for everything that he is doing—have unquestionably, notwithstanding the surrender Act, concentrated the minds of our friends in the EU and are helping us to get a deal.
I will make some progress.
I used to explain to younger children that integrity was doing the right thing even when someone is not watching. Well, we are watching the Prime Minister, and my fear is, if an attempt is being made to get away with no deal with no mandate and to gag Parliament while we are watching, what other horrors are going on behind closed doors? Will the Prime Minister tell me whether he believes his Cabinet has the integrity required to run our country, especially when some are lying flat out along the Front Bench?
I remember being invited to a meeting some time back with a Government Minister to discuss a local constituency matter. He said, “The Chamber is just theatre, and the real work goes on in meetings like this.” That stayed with me, as I know that this place is not theatre to me. When I speak it is from the heart, and I speak for my people in Colne Valley and those who are suffering under this Government’s cruel and callous austerity. Yes, I want a general election, so that we have a Government who act with both honour and integrity and respect the business in this Chamber. However, I want that election on the Opposition’s terms and when there is no possible chance of a no-deal Brexit. The history books will show that this current Government acted with neither honour nor integrity, and made us the laughing stock of the world. Our country deserves far better.
I voted to trigger article 50, but the then Prime Minister called a general election, and I set down red lines to my constituents about what kind of deal I would vote for. The then Prime Minister in effect lost that election by losing 40-odd seats. My mandate comes from the 2017 election.
The hon. Gentleman keeps saying that this is a remain Parliament with remain MPs—he keeps throwing that around—but the House of Commons Library confirmed that in excess of 575 MPs have voted for Brexit and voted for leave. How can he say that they are remain MPs when they vote to leave the European Union?
I am absolutely desperate to have a general election. I want to see a Government who will halt the privatisation of the national health service, who will properly fund our public services, who will stop the wealth of this country being squirreled away in tax havens in the Caribbean and who will care about the majority of people in this country and not just about the very wealthy, but that is not why the Prime Minister is calling for a general election. The Prime Minister is not calling for a general election so that we can have a Labour Government. The Prime Minister is calling for a general election so that, when and if we were to vote for it, he would be in sole control of what happened in this country, and there would be no Parliament here to hold him to account when we leave with a no-deal Brexit.
In my constituency of Ipswich, more than 50% of the people who voted in the referendum voted to leave. It was not much more than 50%, but it was more than 50%. I would not vote for a straight vote to revoke article 50, because that would be wrong. After there has been a referendum and people have voted to leave the European Union—albeit by a narrow margin—it would be entirely wrong for this House simply to go against those wishes.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the support that he gives to our campaign and the UK cause of 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world, and indeed, I thank members of his family for what they have done to support that campaign. On staffing matters, I will not comment, as he would expect.
My hon. Friend is totally right. There is a huge opportunity for the UK to recover its standing, which it used to have before 1973, as a great individual actor and campaigner for global free trade. That is what we are going to do, not just with a great free trade deal with our EU friends, which of course will be the centrepiece of our negotiations, but with free trade deals around the world.
I am sorry. Forgive me. I was thinking of the right hon. Gentleman’s father. His father, of course, was right.
If the right hon. Gentleman talks to his constituents in Leeds he will know that they want him to honour the mandate of the people, and that is what we will do.
We take the issue of prisoners’ brain injury very seriously and, indeed, action is being taken by the Ministry of Justice to look very carefully into the issue. Obviously, I look forward to the debate that will take place—[Interruption.] Well, I have had many invitations across the Chamber in the past. I have never quite had this invitation from the hon. Gentleman and I have to say, I think I will approach the invitation to work with him with caution given some of the arguments that we have had in the past, but I welcome the fact that I will be able to—or expect to be able to—contribute to the debate on that Bill when it goes through this House. It is a very important piece of legislation, which I want to see genuinely transforming what we can do to deal with domestic violence.
My hon. Friend has been campaigning long and hard on that issue and I congratulate him on the passion with which he has done so. As I said earlier, it is right that, in the 10-year plan for the NHS, early diagnosis is one of the elements and, particularly on certain aspects of cancer, they are looking very carefully at what can be done to ensure early diagnosis, so I am sure they will look at my hon. Friend’s proposal.
Obviously the House has rejected the Government’s plan. The House has also rejected the Opposition’s plan. The House has rejected no deal, the House has rejected revocation, and the House has rejected a second referendum. At some stage, the House needs to come to an agreement on what it can agree on in order to take this issue forward. When people talk about the customs union—[Interruption.] Yes, I am aware of the question that the right hon. Lady asked. I think that there is more agreement in relation to a customs union than is often given credit when different language is used. We have been clear that we want to obtain the benefits of a customs union—no tariffs, no rules of origin checks and no quotas, while being able to operate our own independent trade policy. The Labour party has said that it wants a say in trade policy. The question is how we can provide for this country to be in charge of its trade policy in the future.
My hon. Friend has continued to champion the concept of leaving without a deal with the European Union. I believe that it is important for this country that we are able to leave in an orderly way. He references WTO terms. We trade with many countries across the world not on WTO terms but on the terms that are determined by the EU trade agreements with those countries.
However, leaving without a deal is not just about our trade arrangements. It is about other issues. It is about our security as a country as well. There are other matters that a deal will cover. I continue to believe that leaving with a deal in an orderly way is in the best interests of this country, and that is what I am pursuing.
The Conservative party has a complaints process that deals with complaints of Islamophobia and of any other sort against councillors or other members of the party. It is absolutely clear that discrimination or abuse of any kind is wrong. We take action where there are cases of discrimination or abuse. The hon. Gentleman says that we have not acted since he raised this issue in 2018. We have acted on cases. The party chairman takes very seriously any allegations that are brought before the party and we will continue to do so.
My hon. Friend references leaving on WTO terms. Of course, what I want—what I think is right and what the Government consider right for the United Kingdom—is for us to be able to negotiate trade agreements with countries around the world that give us a better operation with those countries, rather than just the WTO basis. But I also want us to be able to negotiate a good trade deal with the European Union. We want a good trade deal with our nearest trading neighbours, and opportunities for good free trade agreements around the rest of the world.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that if we are not going to leave the European Union without a deal, we clearly need to have a deal that enables us to leave the European Union. It is very simple. I have made the point on a number of occasions and I will continue to make it.
I do want to deliver Brexit; I do want to make sure that we leave. I continue to believe that leaving with a deal is the best route for the United Kingdom. We are continuing with the no-deal preparations. My hon. Friend will be aware of the Council conclusions in relation to the extensions. I continue to believe that if it is possible to do so, we should leave on 22 May, and that is the way to guarantee Brexit.
I am sure the whole House will want to join me in expressing our deepest shock and sadness at the news of the air crash in Ethiopia on Sunday. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all 157 who were on board, including the British nationals who were among the casualties. I have sent a personal message of sympathy to Prime Minister Abiy and extended an offer of UK assistance.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary, who very helpfully offered to teach me sign language. In addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today.
It may be to the benefit of the House, Mr Speaker, and I am sure that people will recognise this, if I try to keep my answers shorter than usual today. Let me say to my hon. Friend that I want to leave the European Union with a good deal. I believe we have a good deal. Yes, no deal is better than a bad deal, but I have been working for us to leave on 29 March and leave with a good deal.
I am going to make some more progress.
I know that some right hon. and hon. Members will still have concerns about the backstop, but real progress has been made. All of us should put out of our minds the idea that going round this again will get us any further forward. Responsible politics is about pragmatism, about balancing risk and reward. So Members across the House should ask themselves whether they want to make the perfect the enemy of the good.
I think this was a point that the Attorney General responded to in his statement earlier. Of course, it is open to any sovereign Government to take a decision to disapply something it has entered into. That would have consequences, and I think I am right in saying that my right hon. and learned Friend indicated that that was not a route that he could recommend that Ministers take, but of course my hon. Friend is right that it is always open to a sovereign Government to act in that way.
I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to achieve the best possible chance of a good deal. Actually, we trade with other parts of the world on terms that are part of the EU’s trade agreements with those other parts of the world, and we have been working to ensure that those would continue in the event of no deal, should there be no deal. I think that he and I are of one mind in that we want to leave according to the timetable that has been set and to leave with a good deal for the UK.
Certainly, when I go on the doorsteps, I do get from people an urgent desire to get this sorted—not to get a second referendum and a people’s vote but actually to deliver on the first vote and, to do so, to leave the European Union on 29 March.
We are indeed. We have ramped up our preparations. We are continuing our preparations for no deal. We are engaging not just with Government Departments but with the devolved Administrations and with the Northern Ireland civil service. We are engaging with local authorities up and down the country, and obviously working with businesses and those who would need to make alterations to their operations in the event of no deal. We continue to ramp up those preparations.
As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, I am not familiar, as he is, with the details of his constituency case, and I was not certain from how he posed his question whether the problem was with the documentation alone or whether there was a more substantive problem, but the Immigration Minister or another relevant Minister will happily talk to him to try to sort this out.
I agree with my hon. Friend on both those points. It is important that in the future we have a system that is fair, makes it easy for the brightest and best in the world to come and work and study here and judges people not by the country they come from but on the skills they bring to this country and their commitment to this country.
I have to say that I think that comment was beneath the hon. Gentleman. Let me explain again why I say what I do about a second referendum. It is very simple. Throughout my political career, when I have seen other countries hold second referendums on decisions relating to Europe because the first one did not come out in the way the politicians of the time wanted it to, it was hugely important that people accepted the result of the first one. This House overwhelmingly voted for our referendum and overwhelmingly voted to trigger article 50, and I believe that we should follow through on those decisions and deliver on the vote that people took in the referendum in 2016.
We will be leaving the European Union on 29 March. I believe we shall be leaving on 29 March with a good deal. We are working across the House to ensure that we can deliver in negotiation with the European Union and that we can find a deal that actually secures the support of this House. I believe that leaving with a good deal is the best outcome for the UK.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall speak about this later in my speech, but it is over the years since 2010, with Conservatives in government, that we have been able to turn the economy around, ensure that jobs are provided for people and give people a better future.
I have made it very clear that if people want to avoid no deal, what they should be doing is supporting this deal. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will know, businesses such as BAE Systems have said that it is a good deal and should be supported.
My hon. Friend and I have discussed this before. The European Union does not see the situation that would exist if the trade negotiations were continuing for some considerable time, and if the backstop had come into existence, as a good place for the EU. Tariff-free access to EU markets without paying any money, with no free movement of people and with no access for EU boats to our fishing waters, is not a good place for the European Union to be in.
As I explained, the reason why the EU is concerned about the idea of a unilateral exit mechanism is that it does not want to see circumstances in which the UK pulled out of the backstop and left the creation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I suspect that my hon. Friend does not trust the European Union not to try to keep us in the backstop. The EU’s concern is about whether it can trust us not to effectively leave a situation in which there was a hard border. What we have been working at is finding a compromise between the two in which we can all have confidence.
I can assure the hon. Lady, with whom I have spoken about this matter on a number of occasions, that I work across Government with all colleagues, because we need to find a way to deal with this issue. There is no one simple solution, but we have to have a way to deal with this that is legal, fair and proportionate.
I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that that is exactly what we are doing. We would not have seen the peace process without the hard work, dedication and dignity of our armed services and our police. They are the reason that we actually were able to have a peace process and we must never forget the sacrifice they made.
I will continue to take interventions, but I am going to make some more progress now.
The withdrawal agreement ensures a fair settlement of our financial obligations. I want to turn to the most contentious element of the withdrawal agreement. Perhaps this is a neat segue, as my last intervention was from the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds), because I want to turn to the Northern Ireland protocol. It is important to remember what is at the heart of the protocol. It is our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland. It is about saying that whatever happens as we leave the European Union we will, as I have just said to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), honour the Belfast agreement. The hard-won peace that has inspired the world and the detailed arrangements that have delivered and sustained it will not be lost. The people of Northern Ireland and Ireland will be able to carry on living their lives as before. To deliver that, we need a solution in the future partnership that ensures there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Both the UK and the EU are fully committed to having our future relationship in place by 1 January 2021, but there is still the possibility that it is not ready before the end of the implementation period. The only way to absolutely guarantee no hard border on the island of Ireland at the end of the implementation period is to have a backstop in the withdrawal agreement as a last resort insurance policy. Let us be clear: this is true not just for the deal we have negotiated. Whether you want a model like Canada’s or whether you want to see the UK as a member of the European Economic Area, any future relationship will need to be negotiated and will need an insurance policy if that negotiation cannot be completed in time. Put simply, there is no possible withdrawal agreement without a legally operative backstop. No backstop means no deal.
As I expressly said earlier, I believe that we can be better off outside the EU. The mistake all too often made is made by those who say that the only issue about our future prosperity is whether we are a member of the EU. I disagree. The issue of our future prosperity is about us and decisions that Governments and this Parliament take about our economy, and it is about the talents of our people, and I am full of optimism about our prosperity outside the EU precisely because of the talents of our people.
No. There is a duty on both sides to act in good faith during the implementation or transition period. The UK today, as a member of the EU, does not take a EU position on the UN Security Council. We are an independent member of the Security Council—we sit there in our own right—and take positions as the United Kingdom. I am happy to write to my hon. Friend with further details—he raised several points—but I do not believe that the position he set out is the correct interpretation.
Obviously this is a very difficult and distressing time for Mr Hedges and his family. Foreign Office officials are supporting Mr Hedges and his family, and they have raised the case with the Emiratis at the highest levels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has personally raised this case with his Emirati counterpart. We are in regular contact with the Emiratis regarding Mr Hedges’s health and wellbeing, and we continue to push for consular access to ensure that he is given the support he needs.
I have been pleased to discuss our potential membership of the TPP with the former Australian Prime Minister and with the Japanese Prime Minister. I am pleased that the Australian Government and the Japanese Government are welcoming us in joining the TPP. One of the issues we looked at when we put forward our proposals for our future trading relationship with the European Union was precisely whether it would mean we cannot join the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—the CPTPP. I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that we would be able to join the CPTPP under the relationship proposed in the Government’s plan.
The Government have put forward a proposal in the national interest. There are differences across this House, as has been obvious from a number of Opposition Members who want us to stay in a customs union and want us to stay in the single market, which in my view would not be keeping faith with the vote of the British people.
As I said earlier, we could of course tear up the regulatory standards we have in the United Kingdom, but I do not believe that that would be the right thing to do. I also do not believe that the House would support it. When we look at trade deals around the rest of world, we see that there are decisions to take, as in any trade deal, about the basis on which trade goes forward, and about the standards that both sides will apply in those deals. However, I believe it is right that the United Kingdom maintains high regulatory standards in a number of areas.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; decisions have been taken by Governments of all colours to take action where it was believed to be in the national interest and important in order to prevent humanitarian suffering. As he said, there has been a long-standing and proud tradition in the Labour party of being willing to step up to the plate and take those decisions when it is necessary to do so.
I absolutely understand the concern that my hon. Friend and other Members of the House have in relation to the role of Parliament, particularly given the experience, and I know that he has in the past and continues to be concerned about that issue. As I said in response to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), we are not saying that no debate should take place in Parliament; we are saying simply that there needs to be a recognition of the fact that there will be occasions when it is important to act in a timeline and with consideration of the operational security of our armed forces, which means it is not possible to have that debate in advance of a decision being taken.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is a universal message that needs to be sent to all those brutal dictators who may be considering going down this route.
With the Kremlin effectively dismantling the diplomatic route, we are left with no option but to apply military force. It pains me to say this, but the sad reality is that the future of Syria is in the hands of the Kremlin, Iran and the Assad regime. However, that does not mean that we have no agency or that we should allow the international norms around the prohibition of chemical weapons to wither on the vine. That is why it was right to act in the name of humanitarian concerns and assert the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. But Parliament should have had a say. That has been the way we have operated in this place for over a decade. The dispute about parliamentary authorisation reveals the shortcomings of a convention-based constitutional system. The Leader of the Opposition is therefore right that we should have a war powers Act. Of course, the devil will be in the detail. Such an Act must not be so loose as to allow the Government to do anything, but it must not be so tight as to bind the hands of the Government and those on the frontline to the extent that it would become an impossibly high bar to pass.
The costs of non-intervention are clear. Non-intervention would equate to a tacit approval of the abhorrent use of chemical weapons. A targeted strike on the installations that enable the use of chemical weapons not only degrades the Syrian capacity to deliver and use chemical weapons again, but sends a signal that their use will not be tolerated. We must therefore be steadfast and consistent. We must also do more to support those who have fled Syria to escape this barbarity, and step up to fulfil our obligations to address the refugee crisis.
My party has a proud history of standing up for the most vulnerable. We led the world to intervene in Kosovo to prevent genocide, understanding that the Russian veto precluded the UN route at that time. The Labour party is not a pacifist party. Indeed, it was a Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, who was the driving force behind establishing NATO. I am truly proud of the Labour party’s role, 60 years ago almost to the day, in the signing of the treaty of Brussels. We are a party that understands that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men—and, indeed, women—to do nothing. We understand the costs of non-intervention, just as we appreciate and learn from the costs of intervention. Where would we be if pacifists had been in charge in 1939?
If the only intervention that we contemplate is that with UN Security Council approval, we will be allowing the Kremlin to dictate our foreign policy. I refuse to allow my country or my party to be held hostage by Vladimir Putin. I will always uphold the fine history of my party, which is to be ready, willing and able to intervene, and to shoulder our responsibility to protect.
I do not want to rehash the points made by other hon. Members, but generally I support the tone of the debate. I totally agree with many colleagues who have said that we must have a joined-up and co-ordinated strategy for how we support the people of Syria in diplomatic, humanitarian and other ways.
On the diplomatic strategy, resolution 377A of the General Assembly—the “Uniting for Peace” resolution—would allow this Government to convene an emergency session of the GA to seek a majority there. If that majority was found, it would provide a level of backing under international law that would give some legitimacy to further actions and strategies on Syria.
I want to focus most of my comments on my trip to northern Syria a week ago. I met a number of the Kurdish but also the Arab and Turkmen leaders who hold joint positions in the northern Syrian region administration. Often we talk about the disaster of Syria, but what the northern Syrian authority has managed to achieve despite all the disaster going on around it is rather remarkable, and we should be basing our strategy for Syria on that. It has achieved a bottom-up democracy in which local organisations co-ordinate at the parish level to ensure basic humanitarian provision, in which women must co-chair every single level of government—that is remarkable for the region and for the world—and in which there is a quota to ensure that 40% of seats in all authorities in the northern Syrian region are reserved for non-Kurdish minorities, which shows the pluralism that these people are trying to build. It also has a fighting force that led in fighting Daesh and its fascist ideology all the way back to the borders.
What I heard there was a feeling that these people are now being let down by the British Government. With the incursion into Afrin by Turkey, a supposed British ally, they feel that they have been left out in the cold. I spoke to the co-Prime Minister there, who said that Russia and Syria had made them an offer: if they got into bed with them, they would give them protection against Turkey. They rejected that offer; they could not get into bed with Assad because they wanted democracy.
We must ensure that we uphold the work that those people have done, rather than abandoning them to the onslaught. Hundreds of thousands of people have now been displaced in Afrin and hundreds have died. There is one thing that the Government could do. A number of military fighters in the region who have fought Daesh are ill and need advanced medical treatment, but the Government are refusing them visas through the new corridor that has opened up into Iraq—
As I said in my statement, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) said in his question, we are very clear about the fact that we have no argument with the Russian people. It is with the Russian state—with the Russian Government and their actions—that we are concerned. I think that in the response that we make, it is important for us to make that clear not just in our words but in our actions. What I have talked about today is a response that affects the Russian state and the Russian Government, but not the Russian people.
As my hon. Friend will know, we are one of the limited number of countries in NATO that maintain the commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence. As I am sure he also knows, the modernising defence programme is currently being undertaken alongside the national security capability review. It is important for us to be able to deal with the variety of threats that we face. However, I must say to my hon. Friend, as I have said to other Members, that as we look at how we deal with those threats, not all of them will be dealt with in a way that would conventionally be considered a matter for the Ministry of Defence.
What I said was that we are looking at the border arrangements in a number of countries around the world. We are looking not just at the border arrangements the European Union has with a number of countries—it has a variety of customs arrangements with various countries—but more widely around the world. I have set out what I believe is a future arrangement for customs that will suit the United Kingdom and the European Union, and will ensure no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. As the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) pointed out, this has been picked up in the European Parliament and it has been made clear that there are innovative solutions that can deliver exactly what we are talking about.
Unfortunately, the Opposition are turning their face away from what is actually happening in our economy: productivity up, employment up, borrowing down. We are seeing good results in our economy, but there is more we can be doing. I am optimistic about what we can achieve through our trade arrangements with the EU in the future, but also, as we go outside and become a much more outward-looking country, with an independent trade policy.
As I understand it, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) said yesterday that he expects the report on HMP Liverpool to be published early in the new year. I understand that a number of actions have been taken, including changes to prison management. Overall, of course, we are increasing frontline staff in our prisons by putting more money into that, and we are increasing the support available to vulnerable offenders, especially during the first 24 hours of custody. We have also invested more in mental health awareness training for prison officers. But of course my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary will look carefully at the report when it is published.
I thank my hon. Friend for seeking further clarification on that point. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East, we are going to leave on 29 March 2019. That is what we are working to, but we want to ensure that we have the same legal position as the European Union, which is why amendment 400, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, has been accepted. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay that, if that power were to be used, it would be only in extremely exceptional circumstances and for the shortest possible time. We are not talking about extensions—[Interruption.]
The position on EU citizens that I set out in my open letter is the position of the United Kingdom Government. If the hon. Lady has a complaint about something that UKVI has said, I suggest that she sends that information to the Immigration Minister.
Of course this is an important issue. As my hon. Friend said, we have seen great progress in providing higher standards of cancer care for all patients. Survival rates are at a record high and about 7,000 more people are surviving cancer after successful NHS treatment compared to three years ago. Of course we want to do more on this issue. He raised a very specific point. I understand that the Department of Health is adopting a phased approach to investment, as the national cancer programme runs for a further three years. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter.
It is not that expectations have been raised this time in relation to this—it is the position that we have taken, and consistently taken, since my Lancaster House speech in relation to not wanting to see a return to the borders of the past between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. As I said in answer to a previous question, ensuring that we get the solution to this will require us not just to work with the European Commission and with the EU27 but to work hard with the Republic of Ireland Government as well.
The key issue is that this is about the period of time required to make the practical changes that are necessary to move to the future partnership. Of course, by definition, those changes will have a time limit to them. I have said that that will be around two years, on the implications of the practicalities of what we are looking at. It is absolutely essential that it is time-limited, because we will have left the European Union and we will be moving to a new partnership. People in the United Kingdom want to ensure that we get to that partnership and our new arrangement outside the European Union.
I recognise the issue that the hon. Lady raises about children who are normally able to access free school meals during term time and the impact that that has during the holidays, which is a matter that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) has been taking up together with colleagues in the all-party parliamentary group on hunger. From the Government’s point of view, our focus remains on tackling the root causes of poverty, not just the symptoms. That is what is important. Nearly three quarters of children from workless families moved out of poverty when their parents entered full-time work, and we see record levels of employment under this Government. That is why ensuring that we get a strong economy and those jobs is so important. I am sure that Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education will be looking at the proposals that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead has brought forward.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Under this Government, we have seen income inequality fall to its lowest level since 1986, the number of people in absolute poverty is at a record low, and we have the lowest unemployment rates since 1975. He is right, however, that there is more to do, which is why yesterday we announced £40 million for youth organisations to boost the skills and life chances of young people living in disadvantaged areas. That will have a transformational effect on the lives of some of our most disadvantaged young people and will help to achieve the fairer society to which my hon. Friend rightly refers.